Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Justine & Kim, together again, as you always wanted to see them

When Justine Henin defeated Vera Zvonareva in the fourth round of the Sony Ericsson Open, I remarked to someone that if she keeps serving like that, no one can stop her.

But she didn't keep serving like that. In fact, she didn't continue to do a lot of things she did against Zvonareva. I wasn't able to tune in to her quarterfinal match against Caroline Wozniacki until it was 4-all in the first set. It was obvious, though, that Henin's serve was off. Her forehand was way off. When she got it working again, her backhand failed her. When she got that working, her serve would go off again.  She also had something wrong with her back, and had to receive treatment. It just didn't look like a good day for her.

Henin did serve for the first set, but Wozniacki broke her. Wozniacki went on to win that set in a tiebreak, and she looked so steady and precise--the opposite of Henin--that I was already thinking, "Now, this is going to get Wozniacki some respect."

But even when she isn't playing that well, Henin has reserves of skill and mental strength, and she called on them in the second set, which she won 6-3, breaking Wozniacki just once in five opportunities, but once was enough. She then broke early in the third set, and suddenly--almost out of nowhere, in contrast to her earlier performance--just about everything began working for her. The serve returned, and out came the slice. Henin hit a total of 52 winners and emerged the 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 victor, and--while Wozniacki comported herself well--she just wasn't up to the task of overcoming the likes of Justine Henin.

In the other semifinal, Kim Clijsters showed that aggression pays off. She dominated Sam Stosur just enough to take the first set, 6-3. Stosur took more risks in the second set, but as it grew tight toward the end, there seemed to be a cloud of doubt hovering over her, while Clijsters never let up. Stosur did put on a serving clinic, but it wasn't enough to overcome a quick-moving, opportunity-grabbing Clijsters. At 5-all, the second set looked like it could go either way, but Clijsters broke Stosur, who suddenly could do nothing but make errors. The Belgian then held for 7-5.

Clijsters will play Henin in the semifinals. Just like old times.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Williams and Bartoli go to Miami semifinals

It wasn't always attractive, but it doesn't have to be. Marion Bartoli and Yanina Wickmayer, meeting for the first time, played a topsy-turvy semifinal in Miami this evening. There were 12 breaks of serve, and Bartoli double-faulted 7 times. 12th seed Wickmayer, when all was said and done, wasn't up to the task of dealing with Bartoli's return of serve, which is her best shot. In fact, when she isn't injured or otherwise preoccupied, it's the shot that wins matches.

The first two games of the first set were long ones, and they were indicative of how the entire match would look. It took her a while, but Bartoli broke Wickmayer four times to take the first set 6-4. In the second set, Wickmayer began to hit with more confidence. Bartoli kept up the pressure, though, and never appeared to waver in confidence, even when things went wrong. For example, she was broken after leading 40-0 in one game, but she handled it calmly. Serving at 4-5, Bartoli went down 0-40, but eventually held. She then broke Wickmayer, and held for a 6-4, 7-5 victory.

The last game of the match was also a microcosm of the whole thing: Bartoli had three match points. She double-faulted the first one, and Wickmayer saved the second one when a netcord roller went her way. But on the third, the 13th seed won a place in the semifinals.

Earlier in the day, 3rd seed Venus Williams defeated 6th seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-3, 6-1. This match should have been more competitive, but Radwanksa has issues with her serve. Williams didn't: She had a first serve percentage of 77, and hit 8 aces.


Sania Mirza is getting married next month. No, I'm not behind the times...Mirza did break off her engagement to Sohrab Mirza, but now she is marrying Pakistani cricket star Shoaib Malik. Mirza and her husband will live in Dubai.

College of Charleston student Mary Zolga has received a $5,000 scholarship grant from the Family Circle Cup's outreach program. Zolga, a business administration major and member of the women's track and field club, was awarded the grant on the basis of an essay she wrote. The scholarship program, founded in 2002, recognizes female College of Charleston students who make significant contributions in the areas of academics, athletics and community involvement.

New information reveals that 1912 Wimbledon champion Ethel Warneford-Thomson also won eleven badminton championships--five singles and six doubles.

The Fed Cup semifinal between Italy and the Czech Republic will be played in Rome on a clay court. This will be the first time that a Fed Cup competition has taken place at the Foro Italico Stadio "Nicola Pietrangeli."

Ashley Harkleroad will play World Team Tennis for the New York Sportimes this summer.

Their hearts belong to Daddy, but is it time for a change?

Watching Agnieszka Radwanska today in Miami, I thought, for the hundredth time: How can such a talented player bear to have such a terrible second serve? I really enjoy watching Radwanska, but it is obvious that--despite her considerable skills--she is not going to win anything big until she either gets in 90% of her first serves or comes up with a decent second serve.

Radwanska is coached by her father, a man who already has a reputation as one of the more difficult tennis parents on the tour. Obviously, he did something right, or Radwanska would not be such a good player. But what kind of coach allows a top player to continue playing while she holds such a large liability?

I have written many times that I suspect that Marion Bartoli's physical fragility could be related to the fact that she does so much training, even right before a match. Maybe I'm wrong, but would it hurt for her to try someone else's approach? It isn't going to happen: Bartoli, you'll recall, would not play in Fed Cup because her father (who is her coach) was not allowed to accompany her.

Sabine Lisicki is also coached by her father. Lisicki, a real talent, is now a walking (figuratively speaking) injury. Again, how could it hurt to have someone else take over--at least for a while--who could get to the bottom of Lisicki's now common tendency to become injured during matches?

There may be some observers who think that it's time for Caroline Wozniacki to seek a fresh perspective, too. It's hard to argue with a number 2 ranking, or with the inherent toughness Wozniacki displays, but there is also concern that her reliance on defensive play will eventually hamper her success.

This is not to say that it is always a bad thing to be coached by one's parent. Melanie Molitor was a good coach, though she did accept her daughter's lack of desire to train, whereas, perhaps another person would have been tougher on Hingis. Ai Sugiyama was also very successfully coached by her mother. And there is no arguing that Richard Williams and Oracene Price produced two outstanding players. The Williams sisters, however, are in a class of their own. Not only are they outstanding athletes, but they were brought up, from day one, to believe, not that they could win, but that they would win.

Looking at players like Radwanska, Bartoli and Lisicki, though, I have to wonder--would another coach be able to fix what is wrong?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Miami quarterfinal draw is set

There are only eight women left in the Sony Ericsson Open draw, and three of them are Belgian:

Marion Bartoli (13) vs. Yanina Wickmayer (12)
Venus Williams (3) vs. Agnieszka Radwanska (6)
Samantha Stosur (9) vs. Kim Clijsters (14)
Justine Henin (wc) vs. Caroline Wozniacki (2)

Top seed and defending champion both out of Sony Ericsson Open

I had a fantasy this evening of locking Daniela Hantuchova in a comfortable room, putting her in a trance, and planting images of Melanie Oudin's U.S. Open shoes into her unconscious mind forever. Would it do any good? Would anything?

19th seed Hantuchova, on more than one occasion, had this evening's Sony Ericsson 4th round match against Venus Williams practically on her racquet, but--as is so often the case--she refused to let a potential win get in her way.

Williams, seeded 3rd, had a terrible time with both her serve and her forehand in the first set, and--to make the affair even more dramatic--Hantuchova made only three errors, cruising with her second serve, and taking the set 6-1. Williams got her serve to work quite well in the second set, but it was still close, with Williams winning it 7-5.

At that point, if you knew anything at all about Daniela Hantuchova, you knew what was going to happen. I say this not to take anything away from Williams' comeback in this match. But the truth is, when faced with the opportunity to win a big match against a really good opponent, Hantuchova can't handle it. In this case, she had a 0-9 record against her opponent, which didn't help.

I like Hantuchova's game, and if you are one of her fans, I know you don't feel too good right now. (Believe me, as a long-time fan of Patty Schnyder, I feel your pain.) One of the differences between Hantuchova and Williams is that Williams knows how to win. And she knows how to win not only because she is a great tennis player, but because she knows she can win. Williams took that last set 6-4, and booked herself a spot in the quarterfinals.

The tournament's defending champion, Victoria Azarenka, was defeated this evening. 4th seed Azarenka, who is known for going to pieces when she makes a mistake, unraveled before our eyes in her 4th round match against 14th seed Kim Clijsters. Azarenka appeared more focused on her inner dialogue than she was on the ball, and Clijsters made easy work of her, defeating her 6-4, 6-0, and winning match point on an Azarenka double fault.

Indian Wells champion Jelena Jankovic also said goodbye tonight. The woman she defeated in the semifinals in California, Sam Stosur, won the match, 6-1, 7-6. 9th seed Stosur's famous serve--which can elude her--was the key to her win against the 7th seed.

Top seed Svetlana Kuznetsova sustained a shoulder injury during her match against 13th seed Marion Bartoli. Kuznetsova continued to play, though in pain, and Bartoli defeated her 6-3, 6-0.

11th seed Vera Zvonareva whacked the ball out of the court, yelled at herself, and hit herself on the head repeatedly with her racquet as she grew increasingly frustrated over her inability to deal with some of the uncanny angles Justine Henin was creating on the court. It didn't help that Zvonareva was losing most of the points on her second serve.

Henin won the first set 6-1, and broke Zvonareva early in the second set. Down 1-4, Zvonareva held at love, providing hope that the match would become more competitive. Henin then held easily, but in her next service game, Zvonareva hit with more speed and precision, throwing Henin off-balance just a little. But then Henin held at love, and--serving very well--continued to put almost relentless pressure on her opponent. She took the second set 6-4, and became the third Belgian to get to the quarterfinals.

2nd seed Caroline Wozniacki advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 6-2 win over 22nd seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6th seed Agnieszka Radwanska defeated Yaroslava Shvedova 6-1, 6-4, and 12th seed Yanina Wickmayer needed less than an hour to defeat Timea Bacsinzky 6-0, 6-1.

Better with the sound off

If Tennis TV is available, I enjoy watching it because I really like the commentators, but sometimes, I compromise and go for the big screen picture. I did that today when my regional Fox Sports Network showed a (rare) Miami match. (I'm sure FSN showed it because Venus Williams was playing.)

Lindsay Davenport, Justin Gimelstob and Ted Robinson were the commentators, only Robinson was hardly present. The very sound of Gimelstob's voice caused me to ask myself what I always ask: If Gimelstob had made horrific racial comments to the press, would he be in a broadcast booth at either Tennis Channel or FSN? I doubt it, even in the U.S., where racism is ubiquitous. (It didn't help that his public apologist was his co-commentator.)

To make matters even less appetizing, Gimelstob now goes out of his way to tell everyone how great all the women players are, as though his lock-in with Billie Jean King somehow vaporized a lifetime of bigotry.

Then there was the matter of Darren Cahill. Cahill has built his entire persona around his belief in being tough at all costs. Pam Shriver has tried, unsuccessfully, to explain to him that not all cramping is caused by poor hydration and lack of fitness. He will have none of it. Whether the problem is heat, injury or a bad day, you have to be tough, you can't be a sissy, you have to figure it out and do it.

I actually like Cahill as a commentator, but here's the rub: He is a member of the Addidas coaching team, and he was on court with Daniela Hantuchova today at every opportunity. Going on court to coach players is the very antithesis of the Cahill philosophy, but there he was, and I found it less than authentic of him to trot out and give pep talks and strategy hints to his charge.

When the feeds are in sync, my favorite thing to do is to watch a match on the television screen and use the sound on Tennis TV. When that isn't possible, a silent picture is sometimes better.

Ivanovic withdraws from Serbian Fed Cup team

Ana Ivanovic has withdrawn from the Serbian Fed Cup team that is scheduled to play a tie against the Slovakian team next month. "I spoke with the captain Dejan Vranes, and the President of the Federation Slobodan Zivojinovic, and together we decided that under these circumstances, and after all that has happened lately, it’s not the right time for me to be part of the team," Ivanovic announced.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wozniacki advances to Miami 4th round

Maria Kirilenko is one of my favorite players to watch. She has a lovely game with a wide variety of shots. When she is focused, she is stunning. She was focused today during her first set against Caroline Wozniacki in their 4th round match in Miami. Kirilenko, seeded 32nd, pulled out just about every shot in the book (her volleys were especially sharp), and made some deadly returns of serve. She took that set 6-1. But in the second set, Kirilenko lost that focus, and Wozniacki began to play better. The number 2 seed took the second set 6-1. The third set looked like it would be Wozniacki's but then Kirilenko re-inserted herself into the match. Right before she broke Wozniacki at love to even things at 4-all, however, Tennis TV (which had only one WTA match on today) went out, so I couldn't watch any more of the match. Wozniacki won it, 1-6, 6-1, 6-4. There were 9 breaks of serve in the match.

Wozniacki took a medical break in the first set. Apparently, she has some type of flu. The trainer checked her blood pressure and listened to her heart and breathing, then rubbed ice over her legs and thighs while Wozniacki put ice on her neck.

There were 10 breaks of serve in the match between wild card Justine Henin and 26th seed Dominika Cibulkova, which Henin won 6-4, 6-4.

Defending champion and 4th seed Victoria Azarenka defeated Lucie Safarova in straight sets. Also advancing were 7th seed Jelena Jankovic, 9th seed Sam Stosur, 11th seed Vera Zvonareva, 14th seed Kim Clijsters, and 22nd seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who defeated 15th seed Francesca Schiavone.

Jankovic and Stosur will meet in the fourth round. Jankovic defeated Stosur just last week in the semifinals of Indian Wells.

In doubles, there was another big upset. Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta took out 2nd seeds Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, 4-6, 6-3, 10-7, in the second round.


Yanina Wickmayer's father says that if she isn't scheduled to play singles, Wickmayer won't be at Belgium's Fed Cup match against Estonia. Wickmayer, it should be noted, says it doesn't matter to her--that she plans to be there to support her team, no matter what.

Anna Kournikova talks with Peter Bodo about her life.

Sam Stosur is cross-dominant, and eats with her left hand.

Melanie Oudin is the first U.S. woman to commit to playing on the USA Fed Cup squad next month in the semifinal against Russia.

ESPN is making a documentary on the Evert-Navratilova rivalry.

On-court coaching needs to go

I have never been a fan of on-court coaching, but I have tried to be open-minded about it. There are just too many things wrong with it, though, for me to support this trend; indeed, I want it to go away.

One of the main arguments against on-court coaching is that it is the antithesis of what tennis is all about--the challenge of one (in singles) individual--alone--figuring out what to do against an opponent. Though some may perceive this as a purist concept--so what? The image of the tennis player on her own, mentally and physically equipped to make fast decisions and execute well-timed shots, is an image that suits the sport.

Then there is the gender issue. The ATP does not have on-court coaching, so having the women get help makes them look especially dependent. And--as Tom Tebbutt commented last spring (the editorial is, unfortunately, no longer available) in The Globe and Mail, it is disturbing to see middle-aged men--often fathers--coming onto the court to tell women and girls what to do. I agree. And while I know that the Sony Ericsson WTA tour gives lip service to equality, when it comes to action, sexism is the order of the day. Having older male authority figures come onto the court to direct young females is a disturbing image indeed. The fact that there are so few female coaches (that's a discussion for another time) doesn't help.

Then there is the distasteful issue of microphones. Why on Earth would a coach want everyone to hear what he is telling his player, and why would a player want everyone to hear it? Isn't anything private? And there is also the matter of different coaches and players speaking different languages.

The Sony Ericssson WTA Tour defends on-court coaching by saying that the "fans want it." What fans are these? I have never met anyone who watches women's tennis and likes on-court coaching. And even if such fans do exist, pleasing them via a system that makes women look weak and tennis look tacky should not be an option.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Kuznetsova moves into 4th round in Miami

Top seed Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated 27th seed Agnes Szavay 6-2, 6-3 today to advance to the fourth round of the Sony Ericsson Open. Also advancing were Marion Bartoli, Yanina Wickmayer, Timea Bacsinzky, Venus Williams, Daniela Hantuchova, Yaroslava Shvedova, and Agnieszka Radwanska.

Black & Huber out of Miami in 1st round

The unseeded team of Nathalie Grandin and Abigail Spears has upset top seeds Cara Black and Liezel Huber in the first round of the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. Grandin and Spears were a mini-break down in the super-tiebreak, but held on, and won the match 3-6, 6-4, 10-7.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Rain interrupts 2nd round play in Miami

What do you call someone who wins the first set, goes up 3-1 in the second and 3-0 in the third, and loses the match? Tsvetana Pironkova. How many times have we seen Pironkova blow a significant lead? She did it again today against Miami 2nd seed Caroline Wozniacki, who had to fight to the end to win this second round match.

It rained on and off for hours in Miami today, and a lot of matches were interrupted. The match between 24th Alisa Kleybanova and Sara Errani was suspended because of darkness; I assume one of the courts doesn't have very good lighting. The match resumed later, however, and Kleybanova, who had been leading in the second set, saw both her lead and the match fall out of her hands.

Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, seeded 29th, just missed a chance to play Victoria Azarenka again. She held three match points against Lucie Safarova but could not convert them. Safarova won the 2 1/2-hour match,  4-6, 7-6, 6-2. Melinda Czink also had a second round match on her racquet, but lost to 32nd seed Maria Kirilenko.  20th seed Zheng Jie was upset by Virginie Razzano in straight sets.

11th seed Vera Zvonareva--though many of her games went to deuce--nevertheless had a pretty easy job of it against Melanie Oudin, whose service stats were terrible throughout most of the match. Zvonareva won, 6-1, 6-2.

And finally, Justine Henin defeated Elena Dementieva in straight sets (6-3, 6-2 ) again. Dementieva double-faulted 11 times, something she hasn't done lately, and converted only one of the three break chances she had against Henin.

Friday cat blogging--diversity edition

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How Chip Brooks helped Jankovic win Indian Wells

As most fans already know, Bollettieri Academy tennis director Chip Brooks has been helping Jelena Jankovic get over her slump. His work with her paid off when she won the BNP Paribas Open last week. Here is Chris Oddo's interview with Brooks.

Li and Pennetta out of Miami

Li Na, seeded 8th in Miami, was upset in the second round today by Timea Bacsinzky, who defeated her 6-4, 4-6, 7-6. Li grabbed an early mini-break in the tiebreak but couldn't hold onto it.

10th seed Flavia Pennetta seems to be working on a pattern that doesn't look too good--do well at the beginning of the season, slump, then rise to the occasion later in the season. That pattern continued today when she lost in the second round to Andrea Petkovic. Petkovic is certainly not to be taken lightly, but the 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 scoreline gives one pause. Petkovic's service stats were excellent, by the way.
Pennetta and partner Gisela Dulko did defeat wild cards and former Australian Open champions Svetlana Kuznetsova and Alicia Molik yesterday in doubles.

Pennetta was not the only seed to make an exit today. 18th seed Aravane Rezai was upset 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 by Petra Martic, and Gisela Dulko defeated 21st seed Alona Bondarenko 7-5, 6-2. Roberta Vinci defeated 30th seed Anabel Medina Garrigues, and 31st seed Aleksandra Wozniak was defeated by Polona Hercog.

Daniela Hantuchova now leads Patty Schnyder 10-8 in their long-running under-the-radar rivalry. She won their second round match 6-1, 6-4.

It was a day for bagels. Petkovic, of course, won her third set 6-0, and Radwanska beat Makarova 7-5, 6-0. Then there was the match between 27th seed Agnes Szavay and wild card Alicia Molik, which Szavay won 6-0, 6-0. Molik had a first serve win percentage of 12.

I have a couple of questions, so if anyone is in the know, please jump in and comment:
1. Was Sabine Lisicki wearing ankles braces when she retired because of yet another ankle injury?
2. Why are Jans and Rosolska playing with different partners in Miami?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Williams named tour Player of the Year

The annual Sony Ericsson WTA tour awards ceremony was held in Miami today, and the Player of the Year award went to world number 1 Serena Williams. She and sister Venus also won the Doubles Team of the Year award. Here are the other winners:

Comeback Player of the Year--Kim Clijsters
Karen Krantzcke Sports(wo)manship Award--Kim Clijsters
Newcomer of the Year--Melanie Oudin
Most Improved Player--Yanina Wickmayer
Player Service Award--Liezel Huber

Fans voted Elena Dementieva the Fan Favorite Singles Player of the Year, and Venus and Serena Williams Fan Favorite Doubles Team of the Year.

Henin and Dementieva to meet in Miami 2nd round

Justine Henin has a wild card at the Sony Ericsson Open, a matter which inconveniences players in the early rounds of the tournament. Today, Henin defeated Jill Craybas; in the second round, she meets 5th seed Elena Dementieva. Henin had a wild card for the Australian Open, and drew Dementieva in the second round there, also. She won, 7-5, 7-6, and there is undoubtedly much interest in the Miami match between these two.

Also coming up in the second round in Miami is the renewal of a long and exciting rivalry, but one which is rarely discussed. In fact, it wasn't even discussed when both players were much higher in the rankings. Patty Schnyder and Daniela Hantuchova have met 17 times, and Hantuchova has won 9 of those matches, including the last four. In the first round, Hantuchova had a bye, and Schnyder defeated Katarina Srebotnik.

There have already been a couple of retirements. Anastasija Sevastova, who was seeded first in qualifying, retired during her second qualifying round because of a foot laceration. And today, Varvaro Lepchenko retired in her second set against Virginie Razzano.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Justine Henin has entered the rankings as number 33 in the world.

Kim Clijsters is the newest brand ambassador for the Citizen Signature timepiece collection.

Anne Keothavong is at the Evert Academy for her pre-Miami training.
James Martin says it's time for Caroline Wozniacki to make some changes. (He doesn't cite any WTA examples of players who changed their games, but Chris Evert certainly comes to mind; she didn't so much change it as add to it.)

On the other hand, James LaRosa suggests we stop calling clever, conservative players "pushers."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

She's...back! Jankovic wins Indian Wells championhip

For many months, some of us have been asking "When is she coming back?" Jelena Jankovic answered that question this week in Indian in Indian Wells. Today, decked out in her oh-so-JJ lime tennis dress, she answered it emphatically. The 6th seed, who had not won a title since last fall, came out blazing today in her final against 2nd seed Caroline Wozniacki. She went up 3-0 in the first set, and looked like he might go up 4-0, but Wozniacki then held serve.

Jankovic, serving well enough, and putting on a clinical display of the defensive play for which she is known, took the first set 6-2. She immediately went up a break in the second set, too, but in that set, Wozniacki began to hit the ball with more precision. But Jankovic won that set 6-4, and thereby claimed one of the biggest titles in pro tennis.

Jankovic's movement was as good as it has ever been, she spent more time at the net than usual, took the ball very quickly, and repeatedly attacked Wozniacki's forehand. The precision of Jankovic's groundstrokes was, in fact, too much for Wozniacki to handle.

Jankovic has not had an easy time of it the last year and a half. She came back from the off-season in 2009 very bulked up, and said that the additional weight inhibited her movement. She changed her training regimen and dropped the weight, but then her mother became quite ill. Snezana recovered, then JJ's grandmother died. Jankovic did win a couple of titles, but both last year and at the beginning of this season, she just didn't look like herself--something was missing. Then she traveled to the California desert and found those missing pieces. Confidence is a fragile entity, and one which Jankovic now obviously has back in her possession.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Peschke & Srebotnik win Indian Wells doubles championship

In this evening's BNP Paribas Open doubles championship, each player made some good shots, and there were several momentum swings, but there was no doubting who the star of the championship was. Kveta Peschke, known in doubles circles for her stinging forehand, also controlled the court with a very formidable backhand. And as if that weren't enough, Peschke's volleys were superior. As the match went on, it was Peschke's game that got better, and she and partner Katarina Srebotnik--an unseeded team--defeated 3rd seeds Nadia Petrova and Samantha Stosur 6-4, 2-6, 10-5.

Srebotnik, of course, has only recently returned to the tour, but she and Peschke have already shown that they are a force with which to be reckoned.

10 questions to ponder

1. In an imaginary draw, who--if anyone--would take Justine Henin out of the French Open?

2. If Alisa Kleybanova got fitter and calmed down (i.e., stopped playing high-risk tennis almost every moment), how dangerous would she be?

3. Will Maria Sharapova ever win Wimbledon again?

4. If Zheng Jie can hire a service coach and get a significantly improved serve in just two months, why on Earth don't other players on the tour hire service coaches?

5. Can Caroline Wozniacki take over the number 1 position this year?

6. Will Victoria Azarenka win a major, and--if so--about how long will it take her to do so?

7. Will real photos of the top players ever appear on the tour website and in tour ads again, or are we stuck forever with faux-pinup cut-and-paste Stepford champions?

8. Remember Anna Chakvetadze?

9. Does the ranking system need to be revised yet again?

10. Why don't we, as fans and bloggers, get organized and campaign for a stop to on-court coaching?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Wozniacki to play Jankovic in Indian Wells final

The BNP Paribas Open semifinal match between 2nd seed Caroline Wozniacki and 5th seed Agnieszka Radwanska was my kind of match. There were very long rallies (one went 34 shots), both players carefully constructed points, and both consistently used their brains. Unfortunately, in this age of "hit opponents off the court and smack three dozen winners" (not that there's anything wrong with that), such a match does not appeal to all tennis fans. But it appealed to me. Radwanska, however, for all her lovely touch and strategy, saw her forehand deteriorate, and she missed many opportunities to take control of the match.

Wozniacki, on the other hand, played with keen precision, and also put enough spin on the ball to give Radwanska trouble. She emerged the winner, 6-2, 6-3, and will play 6th seed Jelena Jankovic in the final on Sunday. Jankovic defeated 8th seed Sam Stosur earlier today. Jankovic has a career head-to-head of 3-0 against Wozniacki.

In doubles, 3rd seeds Nadia Petrova and Samantha Stosur will play Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik in the final. Petrova and Stosur defeated Chan Yung-Jan and Zheng Jie in the semifinals, and Peschke and Srebotnik defeated 6th seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Yan Zi.

Jankovic advances to Indian Wells final

Look who's back. BNP Paribas Open 6th seed Jelena Jankovic, who has had a hard time of it on the tour for months, now finds herself in the final of Indian Wells. Jankovic, serving better than usual and returning very well, defeated semifinal opponent Samantha Stosur 6-2, 6-4 today to reach the final. Jankovic was more than up to the task, while Stosur--struggling with her backhand, and  sometimes even with her dangerous forehand--played too carelessly to get past the 6th seed.

Jankovic has not been in a final since the Tokyo tournament of 2009, in which she had to retire.

Jankovic will face either 2nd seed Caroline Wozniacki or 5th seed Agnieszka Radwanska.

Serena Williams out of Miami

World number 1 Serena Williams has withdrawn from the Sony Ericsson Open, scheduled to begin early next week in Miami. Williams has been dealing with a knee injury for a while now.

Friday cat blogging--sister sleep edition

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jankovic and Stosur advance to Indian Wells semifinals

aAlisa Kleybanova finally ran out of fuel, and no wonder, with the battles she has fought in this year's BNP Paribas Open. Kleybanova has provided the most entertainment in Indian Wells, however, and she has a lot of which to be proud. Today, though, she just didn't have as much to give, and 6th seed Jelena Jankovic hung with her and took advantage, winning their quarterfinal match 6-4, 6-4. Kleybanova, as usual, hit a lot of winners, but also made a lot of unforced errors.

The other quarterfinal match featured two players known for their great serves and their expert volleys, but you might not have known that if you saw them for the first time today. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, who got to the quarterfinals by taking out both 3rd seed Victoria Azarenka and 13th seed Yanina Wickmayer, was obviously a bundle of nerves in this, her first really big quarterfinal appearance. I thought that--as the match went on--Martinez Sanchez would relax more and get into a groove, but she never really did. There were flashes of her wonderful serving and her quickness at the net, but those were neutralized by multiple errors, both forced and unforced. The Spaniard held a set point in the second set tiebreak, but could not convert.

As for 8th seed Stosur, she was not at her best, but she was certainly good enough, and between her cracking forehand and her opponent's anxiety, she had a 6-3, 7-6 win.

Jankovic and Stosur will play one another in the semifinals. The other semifinal match will feature 5th seed Agnieszka Radwanska and 2nd seed Caroline Wozniacki, who are close friends.

Spaniards upset in Indian Wells quarterfinal

Yesterday, BNP Paribas top seeds Cara Black and Liezel Huber were upset in the quarterfinals by Chan Yung-Jan and Zheng Jie. Today, 2nd seeds Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez were knocked out by Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Yan Zi (Zheng's former doubles partner). However, the 3rd seeds, Nadia Petrova and Samantha Stosur, prevailed, defeating Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.

In the semifinals, Chan and Zheng will play Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik, who defeated Maria Kirilenko and Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals. Petrova and Stosur will play Mattek-Sands and Yan.

Wozniacki scales the Wall and reaches the Indian Wells semifinals

Tonight, a commentator called Zheng Jie the Great Wall of China, and I hope the nickname sticks. The 18th seed and her opponent, 2nd seed Caroline Wozniacki, played a quarterfinal match in Indian Wells that was so physically and mentally demanding, there was almost no way the scoreline could accurately reflect what happened on the court. I was exhausted, just watching it.

The match lasted just over two hours and 18 minutes, but it felt as though it lasted longer. For two sets, both players were at their best, playing crowd-thrilling defensive tennis, and taking each other to the edge over and over. It was a pleasure to watch. In the third set, however, Zheng was obviously tired, and her errors increased until it was too late for her to redeem herself. But even then, she helped Wozniacki provide some very entertaining tennis.

Wozniacki defeated Zheng 6-4, 4-6, 6-1. There were 11 breaks of serve, and too many deuce games to count. Zheng hit twice as many winners as Wozniacki, but she also made twice as many unforced errors. In the end, Wozniacki hung in with more accuracy, and it paid off.

By the way, Zheng, whose serving was a big part of her undoing in the Australian Open semifinals, has been working with a service coach, and it shows.

In today's other quarterfinal match, 4th seed Elena Dementieva was defeated 6-4, 6-3 by 5th seed Agnieszka Radwanska. Radwanska threw everything she could think of at Dementieva, and the tactic worked. When it comes to changing the direction and pace of the ball, there are few better than Radwanska. And although serving is her weakness (Why, oh why, doesn't such an excellent player do something about that second serve?), Radwanska did manage to use the body serve effectively against Dementieva from time to time. Dementieva also became quite error-prone in this match, and lost her way.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

No Sharapova in Miami

Maria Sharapova has withdrawn from the Sony Ericsson Open, which begins next week in Miami. Sharapova has a bone bruise in her right elbow, and will be out for three to six weeks. This will be the third year in a row that she has missed playing in Miami.

I want what SHE'S drinking

I miss Thrill Ride. I really do. But in her absence, we have Alisa Kleybanova, who keeps digging herself out of holes and winning matches just when you think she is going to go away.

Kleybanova's last two matches each went on for over two and a half hours. The match before that lasted just under three hours. She makes a lot of errors, and--in her last match--her serve abandoned her. But she just keeps going, doing crazy things like winning seven points in a row in a tiebreak in which she is down 0-4.

The question is: How long can Kleybanova keep this up? And even if she can hold up physically, how tired is she mentally? Her next opponent is Jelena Jankovic, who suddenly appears to be remembering who she is, and who is likely to be a tough opponent for Kleybanova and her everything-all-the-time approach to the game.

All the same, one has to wonder what type of reserves Kleybanova has that enable her to keep going for hours and hours, making errors and yet still finding ways to win matches.

Family Circle Cup names doubles wild cards

The teams of Melanie Oudin and Shenay Perry, and Caroline Wozniacki and Malou Ejdesgaard have been given wild cards into the 2010 Family Circle Cup main draw. Those teams, in addition to the team of Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs, will appear at the "Winning in Doubles" on Tuesday, April 13.

Martinez Sanchez goes to Indian Wells quarterfinals

Slow courts and heavy tennis balls. That sounds like a positive formula for someone like Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, and--sure enough--the Spanish clay court and doubles specialist has worked her way into the Indian Wells quarterfinals. Martinez Sanchez, who took out 3rd seed Victoria Azarenka in the third round, defeated 13th seed Yanina Wickmayer in the fourth round today. Martinez Sanchez, seeded 28th, is an aggressive player with a lot of shot variety who has had outstanding service stats throughout the tournament. She defeated Wickmayer 6-4, 6-4.

Defending champion Vera Zvonareva, seeded 12th, also made an exit today. She was defeated by 8th seed Samantha Stosur. Stosur's 6-2, 7-5 victory places her in the top 10. Stosur is now 4-2 head-to-head against Zvonareva, and has beaten her four times in a row.

6th seed Jelena Jankovic defeated 17th seed Shahar Peer 6-2, 6-2; Peer had serious problems with her serve throughout the match. Also winning were 5th seed Agnieszka Radwanska (def. 11th seed Marion Bartoli), 4th seed Elena Dementieva (def. 19th seed Aravane Rezai), 18th seed Zheng Jie (def. wild card Alicia Molik), and 23rd seed Alisa Kleybanova (def. Carla Suarez Navarro).

2nd seed Caroline Wozniacki defeated 16th seed Nadia Petrova 6-3, 3-6, 6-0. Wozniacki has obviously been working on her serve, and is looking sharp in this tournament.

Here is the quarterfinal draw:

Alisa Kleybanova vs. Jelena JankovicMaria Jose Martinez Sanchez vs. Samantha Stosur
Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Elena Dementieva
Zheng Jie vs. Caroline Wozniacki

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Dinara Safina has withdrawn from the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami because of continuing problems with her back.

Daniela Hantuchova injured her back in Indian Wells and is on her way to see a doctor for additional treatment. The injury does not appear to be serious, and she hopes to be fine for Miami.

Steve Tignor's March 15 column is all about Yanina Wickmayer.

Tennis Channel has done some new Bag Checks. The Bag Check segment is an entertaining diversion. Look for new ones featuring Sabine Lisicki, Alona Bondarenko and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

I like Carla Suarez Navarro's old-school tennis outfit.

Ashley Harkleroad will play in Miami next week. She has a protected ranking of number 70 in the world. Harkleroad left the tour in October of 2008 to have a baby.

Which reminds me: Kim Clijsters had a baby and returned to the tour. (In case you hadn't heard....)

Nicole Vaidisova retires from pro tennis

Nicole Vaidisova has retired from professional tennis. The 20-year-old from the Czech Republic, who, at one time, was known for her on-court temper tantrums, fell down the rankings some time ago. Despite playing in challengers and occasional qualifying rounds and main-draw first rounds, the once-heralded Vaidisova was not able to regain her former place in the pro tennis heirarchy. Indeed, she was not able to gain any place at all.

Last year, an associate of the Czech player's told the press it was her firm belief that Vaidisova simply had no competitive drive at all. I accepted this statement as the most likely explanation for Vaidisova's fall from the top. Hailed as prodigy, she had considerable talent, but a fragile mentality.

Vaidisova turned pro in 2003. She won six Sony Ericsson WTA Tour career singles titles, and was ranked as high as number 7 in the world. In 2006, she reached the semifinals of the French Open, and in 2007, she reached the semifinals of the Australian Open. She got to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon twice, and generally did quite well at the majors, beginning in 2005.

For a few years, it looked as though Nicole Vaidisova was on her way to being a truly big name in women's tennis, but it just didn't happen for her. Of course, given her age and the popularity of comebacks, we could certainly see her again.

Vaidisova turns 21 next month. In July, she will marry ATP star Radek Stepanek.

An interview with Heather Watson

Recently, in Hammond, Louisiana, at the Tangipahoa/Loeb Law Firm $25k Tennis Classic, I had a chance to meet Heather Watson. The 2009 junior girls U.S. Open champion got off to a roaring start in Hammond when she defeated former world number 7 Nicole Vaidisova in a very long match that was played in extremely windy conditions. In the quarterfinals, however, the young British star lost to eventual champion Zhang Shuai.

Heather was kind enough to answer a few questions from Women Who Serve:

It was nice to see so many British players in Hammond. We did our best to give you some crazy weather :) You looked like you were handling all that wind pretty well. Do you have experience playing in a lot of wind?

Well, wind is the same for both players so you can never make any excuses. I have played in the wind quite a bit, but I wouldn't say that I'm experienced...haha.

What do you think happened against Zhang in the quarterfinals? You looked kind of frustrated in the second set.

I had my chances in the first set but wasn't able to covert, and as the match went on I got more frustrated, but she played very well and I shouldn't have let that bother me.

Where do you play next, and what is your preparation for the French Open? If you're not going to be in Paris, then do you know what will your preparation will be for Wimbledon?

I am in Mexico at the moment playing another 25k. I'm not sure if I will be playing the French Open this year but I will hopefully be playing Wimbledon. I will come home early for the grass season to prepare.

Has winning the junior girls U.S. Open changed your life in any way?

It definitely has. It made me decide to turn pro instead of going to college which was one of the biggest decisions I have had to make in my life so far. It made me believe in my ability and what I can do on the court.

You're known for your footwork, court savvy and serve. What do you think you need to work on the most in order to advance in your senior career?

I think I need to keep working hard and keep getting fitter and stronger. I definitely have a lot to improve, and that's the exciting part.

Do you have a goal for 2010?
My goal is to climb the women's rankings as quickly as possible and keep improving as a player and a person. I want to gain experience and learn from being on the tour.

Does anyone besides your coach travel with you?

I travel with my mum to almost every tournament, but she takes a break every now and again, like in Hammond I was just with my coach.

What subjects do you enjoy the most in school, and--if you weren't a pro tennis player--where would we most likely see you?

Art is definitely my favourite subject by far!! No other subject compares to it for me. And I have no idea, but probably on the beach :) because I love it!

Martinez Sanchez upsets Azarenka in 3rd round of BNP Paribas Open

Hitting seven aces and prevailing in a tiebreak, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez pulled off the second biggest upset yet tonight in this year's BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. She defeated 3rd seed Victoria Azarenka 7-6, 6-2. The 28th seed is a doubles specialist (and co-winner of the 2009 Sony Ericsson Championships) with an attractive singles game that includes a very good serve.

9th seed Flavia Pennetta also dropped out today, a victim of 17th seed Shahar Peer, who defeated Pennetta 6-4, 6-7, 6-1. Pennetta looked very good when the season began, but she has gone out earlier than expected in most tournaments this year.

14th seed Kim Clijsters will likely be asking herself "What happened?" for some time to come. Clijsters played 23rd seed Alisa Kleybanova, who--at first glance--appears to personify what Mary Carillo long ago defined as "big babe tennis." Kleybanova is a hard hitter who is happy to go head-to-head with other big ball-strikers. But there is more to Kleybanova's game than just hard hitting, as Clijsters learned tonight. Kleybanova can volley, she can do quick change-ups, and she can hit some difficult angles.

Kleybanova won the first set 6-4. The second set was all about Clijsters, who performed so well that she grabbed the set 6-1 in no time at all. Then she went up 3-0 in the third, and it looked like she was going to make short work of winning the match. But things changed. Kleybanova appeared troubled but determined, and Clijsters started getting sloppy. Before long, it was 3-all. The pair stayed on serve, and there were some tense moments, especially for Kleybanova, who still looked a beat behind Clijsters. When Kleybanova served at 4-5, Clijsters was two points from winning the match. But she didn't. When Kleybanova served at 5-6, Clijsters as two points from winning the match. But again, she didn't.

The match went to a tiebreak, and Clijsters went up 4-0. And then Kleybanova won seven straight points, and that was that.

Kleybanova did a great job of moving Clijsters around the court, and she also did a good job with her second serve, which often kicked up high enough to give Clijsters problems.

In other third round matches, Carla Suarez Navarro defeated 27th seed Agnes Szavay, 13th seed Yanina Wickmayer defeated Roberta Vinci, Jelena Jankovic defeated Sara Errani, defending champion and 12th seed Vera Zvonareva defeated Anastasija Sevastova, and 8th seed Sam Stosur defeated 25th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The scoreline for that match, 6-3, 6-0, was somewhat of a surprise.

Monday, March 15, 2010


What began in Indian Wells this evening as a near-meltdown for 6th seed Jelena Jankovic ultimately became an eminently watchable thriller, as Jankovic's spirit slowly lifted and we began to see more and more of what one of the Tennis Channel commentators (and some of the rest of us) refer to as the "old Jankovic."

Jankovic was up against savvy clay court specialist Sara Errani, who is perhaps the ultimate grinder on the women's tour. Errani was in fine form in this third round match, and impressed the crowd with her defensive play, which--like the "old Jankovic"--she was often able to turn into offensive success. Errani spun, sliced, lobbed, and hit precise groundstrokes, frustrating a flat-looking (how often have we said that in the past year?) Jankovic. Gone was the old-time smile on JJ's face, and gone was the breath-taking backhand down the line. Errani expertly took the first set 6-2.

In the second set, it was as though Jankovic woke up. Her errors decreased, and she found a rhythm. But that didn't stop Errani, who kept up with Jankovic and took the set to a tiebreak. That's when it got really interesting: Jankovic quickly went up 5-1, but Errani saved set points to even the score, securing the last one with a perfect drop shot. It then went to 6-all, and finally, Jankovic was able to take advantage of a set point.

Jankovic began the third set on a positive note, but Errani was not to be stopped. Suddenly, the 6th seed was serving at 2-4, 0-40, and that's when the "old Jankovic" made her greatest appearance. She saved three break points, but could not win the game on her first ad point. She did save a fourth break point, however, and on her second ad point, she held with a strong serve. It was all pretty much about JJ after that, though her opponent never stopped fighting. A disgusted Errani missed an overhead on match point, and Jankovic took the set 6-4. It took her almost two hours and 49 minutes, but the 6th seed won her ticket to the next round.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Zheng takes Sharapova out of BNP Paribas Open

For almost 2 hours and 45 minutes this afternoon in Indian Wells, Maria Sharapova and Zheng Jie played a tough second round match of topsy-turvy tennis, filled with momentum changes and frustration. 10th seed Sharapova had repeated problems with her serve, double-faulting 14 times; segments of the match that were filled with errors were often followed by long and entertaining rallies.

In the first set, Zheng moved Sharapova around successfully, and finished a number of points with her impressive forehand. She won that set 6-3. In the second set, however, Zheng appeared to lose her sense of flow and began making more errors. At the same time, Sharapova--though continuing to struggle with her serve--began hitting groundstrokes with more precision and power. She won the set 6-2.

Up a quick break in the third set, Sharapova appeared to have found--if not her game--at least a comfort level. She hit some very good second serves, and she took advantage of Zheng's weak second serve. But then Zheng found her way again, started moving Sharapova all around the court like she did in the first set, and again used her forehand (and her backhand, too, at this point) to finish points. She emerged the winner, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.

It was a somewhat messy affair, and included games that went to deuce eight and nine times. Both players looked tired by the middle of the third set, and my guess is that it was mental fatigue they were feeling. Zheng's defensive skills are formidable, and her first serve has improved. She is one more player, however, who needs a better second serve; it would save her a lot of frustration and points.

Also in the second round, 19th seed Aravane Rezai defeated Francesca Schiavone 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 in a match that lasted 2 hours and 52 minutes.

In doubles, Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova upset 5th seeds Alisa Kleybanova and Francesca Schiavone. The team of Benesova and Zahlavova Strycova is one to keep an eye on this season.

Interview with Heather Watson coming soon

I recently had the opportunity to chat briefly with junior girls U.S. Open champion Heather Watson, and the results of that interview will appear here shortly.

Kuznetsova out of Indian Wells

BNP Paribas Open top seed Svetlana Kuznetsova played her first match of the tournament in Indian Wells yesterday, and was defeated by Carla Suarez Navarro, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1. Kuznetsova's error-filled performance became worse as the match wore on, and toward the end, she she seemed to not be there at all.

Kuznetsova wasn't the only seeded player to go. 21st seed Daniela Hantuchova lost to Roberta Vinci, the woman who beat Melanie Oudin in the first round. Anastasija Sevastova defeated 24th seed Ana Ivanovic 6-2, 6-4. This loss puts Ivanovic out of the top 50. 26th seed Dominika Cibulkova was upset by Sara Errani.

Defending champion Vera Zvonareva probably got more than she bargained for in qualifier Sloane Stephens. Stephens, who had never before played in a big stadium in front of a very large crowd, was remarkably composed throughout the match. She repeatedly engaged in long rallies with Zvonareva, and held her own. She also set up a lot of short balls from Zvonareva, but--most of the time--did not know what to do with them. She hit a number of them into the net, and others she hit long. Had she been able to finish what she started, the match might well have gone to three sets. Stephens has an impressive forehand, and it will be interesting to see how her game progresses.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Daniela Hantuchova has been relaxing by playing golf in Indian Wells.

On Tuesday, March 23, in Miami, Maria Sharapova and Jay Sean will play Mel B. and Novak Djokovic in a doubles match at the Sony Ericsson Open.

"You'd think that the women of the WTA would feel resentment toward Clijsters because she came back after two years and won the U.S. Open." No, Brian Webber--you'd think they would.

Here is the 2010 World Team Tennis schedule.

Elena Dementieva has become a brand ambassador for Maui Jim sunglasses.

The Fed Cup Heart Award will now recognize six players instead of one. The award was established last year, and Melanie Oudin was the first winner. You may vote for players now. This vote is to determine the first four players. (It has all become too complicated for me.)

Hit for Haiti an entertaining event

The women's doubles part of the Hit for Haiti fundraiser in Indian Wells last night was a very entertaining, and sometimes surprising, event. Steffi Graf's microphone pack kept falling off and dangling by its cord onto the court. Finally, it had to be taped to her back. Martina Navratilova provided an amusing running commentary that even included "Oh, be quiet!" when a line official called her ball out.

Navratilova and Justine Henin competed against Graf and Lindsay Davenport. At first, it looked as though Navratilova and Henin might run away with it, but Graf and Davenport soon made the event quite competitive. There were numerous breaks of serve, and it was nice to see that--after all these years--opponents still did whatever they could to stay away from Graf's forehand. And with good reason. Whenever she had the opportunity, Graf used the famous forehand to her team's advantage.

Navratilova and Henin won the match, 8-6, and all the players were equally entertaining in their interviews.

Following the men's match--which featured Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and Rafael Nadal--the event took a turn which disturbed me. After the presentation of a check, Tony Bennett came to the court and sang "Smile." That would have been fine, except that while he was singing, photos of people in Haiti were shown on the large screen. Their houses have been smashed to the ground, their loved ones are dead, they have no food and supplies, but--hey...just smile! Right.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dulko strikes again--Henin out of Indian Wells in 1st round

Gisela Dulko is a very fine tennis player who possesses a wide variety of shots, and who hits the ball much harder than her small frame would indiate. When her serve is on, it's excellent. Dulko's career, however--like her serve--has been plagued by inconsistency, so one is never quite sure which Dulko is going to make an appearance.

This evening, a winning Dulko showed up in Indian Wells and took out wild card Justine Henin 6-2, 1-6, 6-4. Between them, the two players committed 17 double faults, but we have become accustomed to that sort of thing. Dulko served for the match at 5-4 and held at love.

Henin wasn't the only major player to fall. Qualifier Elena Baltacha defeated 7th seed Li Na, 7-6, 2-6, 7-6. Li held three match points in the tiebreak.

Other seeds who lost were Alona Bondarenko (20), Anabel Medina Garrigues (29) and Aleksandra Wozniak (30). Anna Chakvetadze and Sabine Lisicki (here we go again) both retired with left ankle injuries.

Friday cat blogging--friendship edition

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Oudin out in 1st round in Indian Wells

Melanie Oudin was defeated 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 by Roberta Vinci in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open today.

Andrea Petkovic and Lucie Safarova were also defeated, by Barbora Zahlavova Strycova and Julia Goerges, respectively.

In doubles, 4th seeds Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs were upset by Maria Kirilenko and Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-4, 4-6, 10-3.

Williams and Clijsters win Laureus Awards

Serena Williams has received the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award for 2010. Williams also won the award in 2003. Kim Clijsters received the Laureus World Comeback of the Year Award for winning the U.S. Open after being away from the tour for two years.

Williams won the Comeback award in 2007.

The Laureus World Sports Awards are the most prestigious international awards given to athletes.

Update on Oudin's deal with Virgin Mobile USA

Apparently, a lot of incorrect information leaked about Melanie Oudin's new deal with Virgin Mobile USA. Her contract, it turns out, is for one year, and there have been no official financial disclosures.

Virgin has agreed to donate $1 million to homeless youth if Oudin wins the U.S. Open. The potential donation is part of Virgin Mobile's RE*Generation program, which raises awareness about the problem of homeless youth in the U.S.

Virgin Mobile USA will also provide free U.S. Open tickets to people who volunteer at not-for-profit homeless youth organizations.

Pavlyuchenkova to play in Charleston

Monterrey Open champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will compete in the 2010 Family Circle Cup, which takes place in Charleston April 10-18. Also competing will be Pavlyuchenkova's countrywoman, Alisa Kleybanova.

The two rising Russians join a field that includes world number 1 Serena Williams, defending champion Sabine Lisicki, Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Melanie Oudin, Vera Zvonareva, Jelena Jankovic, Marion Bartoli, Nadia Petrova, Sam Stosur, and Patty Schnyder.

Other players in the field include Dominika Cibulkova, Daniela Hantuchova, Aleksandra Wozniak, Alona Bondarenko, Katyrina Bondarenko, Anastasija Sevastova, and Casey Dellacqua.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dunlop, via Family Circle Cup, to give away a trip to the French Open

Dunlop Sports Group, manufacturer of the official tennis ball and the official racquet of the Family Circle Cup, is doing a couple of special things this year in connection with the tournament. All of the tennis balls used in Charleston will have the Family Circle Cup logo on them, and fans everywhere can enter to win a trip to the French Open, compliments of Dunlop.

The prize package includes roundtrip airfare to Paris on Continental Airlines, and a three-night stay in a central Paris hotel. Fans can enter to win the trip by clicking on the Dunlop ad on the Family Circle Cup website.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Good news for viewers in the U.S.

The BNP Paribas Open will be broadcast on Tennis Channel this year, rather than being not broadcast on the Fox Sports Network. For the past couple of years, many local FSN affiliates (including my own) opted to show very little of the tournament, and what they did show tended to be taped.

Of course, if you have Tennis TV, you can watch the tournament on your computer, and get better commentators.


Caroline Wozniacki has been training for Indian Wells in a boxing gym in Copenhagen.

It's worth Getting To Know Polona Hercog.

Melanie Oudin has signed a one-year endorsement deal with Virgin Mobile.

Sabine Lisicki, who has been training in Las Vegas, recently got in some hitting with Steffi Graf.

USA Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez says feels optimistic about one of the Williams sisters playing in the Fed Cup semifinal in Birmingham next month. It would appear that that sister would be Venus. April 24 is a long way away, though, in tennis time.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pavlyuchenkova wins her first title

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova had to play two matches today in Monterrey. Her semifinal match was postponed yesterday because of rain, so today, she played her semifinal opponent, Anastasija Sevastova, whom she defeated 6-3, 2-6, 6-1. This evening, the 3rd seed faced 2nd seed and wild card Daniela Hantuchova (who defeated Dominika Cibulkova in the semifinals) in the final. Pavlyuchenkova, serving with a first serve win percentage of 83, defeated Hantuchova 1-6, 6-1, 6-0. At one point, Pavlyuchenkova hit three aces in one game.

This is Pavlyuchenkova's first Sony Ericsson WTA Tour title.

One of the doubles semifinal matches had to be postponed, also. Today, top seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Vania King defeated Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci 6-7, 6-3, 10-6. The top seeds were upset in today's final, however. 2nd seeds Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova won the championship, defeating Groenefeld and King 3-6, 6-4, 10-8.

WTA tour to keep Sony Ericsson, but lose the name

Earlier today, a reader turned me on to the latest development in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour sponsorship negotiations. Given the problems that Sony Ericcson is having, I assumed the company would drop the tour at the end of its contract, but instead, a creative solution has been reached.

The final ten months of the current contract has been voided, and a new three-year contract has been written. Under the terms of this contract, the annual fee has been cut by about 40%; in fact, the $16 million currently owed to the tour has been decreased to $10 million. Also under the terms of the new contract, the name "Sony Ericsson" will be dropped from both the name of the tour and from the year-end championships.

In order to make the deal more equitable, Sony Ericsson has dropped some its requirements, including the number of tickets it gets for tour events. The company has also dropped its requirement that former players attend certain tour events, so the tour will no longer have to pay those players appearance fees.

The name "Sony Ericsson" will still appear on netposts, and players will still be required to wear Sony Ericsson patches.

Apparently, the key negotiation meeting was held in October. In attendance from the tour were communications executive Andrew Walker, WTA founder Billie Jean King, Venus Williams, and Melanie Oudin.

Serving more than strawberries

Hammond, Louisiana--where the local strawberries are some of the best in the world, and the ball tosses are never funky.

I spent the last four days in Hammond, attending the Tangipahoa/Loeb Law Firm $25k Tennis Classic, and not once did I see a truly errant ball toss. Only twice did I see players re-toss the ball. Granted, I wasn't there for the qualifying rounds or the first round, but I saw several players, and they all served competently. A few--like Jamie Hampton (up until the final, anyway) served extremely well.

I had never attended a challenger tournament, and didn't really know what to expect. I was eager to see Heather Watson and Zhang Shuai, but I was also happy to watch any of the matches. After I had been there a couple of days, I was struck by the fact that serving the ball was not a big deal the way it is on the WTA tour. There were double faults, of course, but not really that many.

Zhang Shuai wins 13th ITF title in Hammond

Zhang Shuai, seeded 3rd, won the Tangipahoa Tourism/Loeb Law Firm 25k Tennis Classic in Hammond, Louisiana today, easily defeating Jamie Hampton, who was a different player today than she had been earlier in the week. Hampton's first serve, which has been a strength in this tournament, was off the mark in the final, and she made too many unforced errors to make the match as competitive as it could have been.

The match was somewhat of a letdown in more ways than one. The tournament director introduced Zhang as "Ching Chang," and--though he tried to make up for this gaffe at the awards presentation--he didn't do much better the second time.

Conditions were good today--pleasant temperatures and very little wind. Zhang went up 3-0 right away, with Hampton winning just a few games because she was making unforced errors. Serving at 1-4, deuce, Hampton held with the help of two high-kicking second serves. Zhang won the seventh game after Hampton rushed the net and the 3rd seed was able to get a backhand down the line past her. Zhang took the first set 6-2.

Hampton broke Zhang immediately when the second set began, and I probably wasn't the only one who thought we were going to get a competitive set. But Zhang broke her right back when Hampton once again had problems with her serve. The unforced errors continued to come off of Hampton's racquet, and Zhang won the second set 6-1.

Then an odd thing happened. Zhang shook hands with Hampton and then just sat down and put away her racquet; she never raised it so that she could hear the applause from the crowd. That wasn't the only strange thing about the end of the match. Hampton and Zhang were given their checks, each of them said a few words, and the ballboy holding Zhang's trophy was never asked to give it to her. He just stood there with it, and finally, he put it down. So there was no holding the trophy and hearing the applause from the crowd, either.

Zhang was kind enough to spend a little time with me after the match. I asked her what the hardest part of getting to the final and winning was, and she said that--in the last four matches--it was getting herself together and remaining calm, no matter what.

Zhang said she had hoped to go to Indian Wells, but she didn't get in, so she is going to the $25k tournament in Clearwater, Florida, after which she will play in the 25k tournament in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. And after that, Zhang heads to Miami. Her goal for the year, she said, is to get into the top 100. She is currently ranked number 145 in the world.

Finally, I asked today's champion which of her shots is her favorite, and she answered, "All of them!"

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Monterrey matches cancelled because of rain

Daniela Hantuchova defeated Dominika Cibulkova 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 in the semifinals in Monterrey today. However, rain prevented the second semifinal from being played. That match will be contested by Anastaija Sevastova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Rain also prevented the doubles semifinal match featuring top seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Vania King against Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci.

Zhang and Hampton to play in Hammond 25k final

Zhang Shuai won a hard-fought semifinal against Xu Yi-Fan

Jamie Hampton advanced to the final when Kurumi Nara retired because of illness

Zhang Shuai and Jamie Hampton will compete tomorrow for the championship of the 2010 25k challenger tournament in Hammond, Louisiana. Their playing styles are different, and their semifinal paths to the final were dramatically different.

Zhang, the 3rd seed, played her semifinal against the unseeded Xu Yi-Fan, who--with partner Zhou Yi-Maio--also won the doubles championship today. Xu, who plays left-handed, dominated in the first set, which she won 6-2, after going up 4-0. And, while the set was better than the scoreline indicates, Zhang took the second set 6-0. Xu made a number of unforced errors and lost most of the long rallies. Then the two players got down to business, and produced one of the best sets of tennis I've seen this year.

From the beginning of the set, it was obvious that both players had raised their levels, with Xu rushing the net from time to time, and hitting some good lobs. At 3-all, Xu was down 0-40, but brought the game to deuce. Zhang saved a game point with a forehand down the line, and went on to break Xu, but Xu broke her right back. It was during this game that the umpire called a ball in that was out, and Zhang became agitated and had trouble letting go of the issue.

Serving at 5-6, Zhang went down 0-40, and was broken at 15. But, true to the pattern of this match, she immediately broke back to set up a tiebreak. Xu went up a quick mini-break, and then it went to 2-all. Xu led at 4-2, then 5-2, then 5-3. That lead changed to 5-4, and then Zhanged squared it at 5-all. With Xu serving at 6-5, Zhang saved a match point with a wicked passing shot.

There was a long, outstanding rally, and at the end of it, Zhang was at match point, at 7-6. But Xu saved that match point. Then it was 7-all, then--when a moonball from Xu went long, Zhang had match point again at 8-7. Xu saved that one, too, creating even more excitement. However, Xu--seeing Zhang back on the baseline--attempted a drop shot that failed, giving Zhang her third match point. Xu saved that one, too, with a fast shot down-the-line. However, on her fourth match point, Zhang took the tiebreak--and the match--at 11-9.

Zhang will play Jamie Hampton in the final tomorrow. Hampton, who is unseeded, played 6th seed Kurumi Nara in the semifinals. During the first set, Nara--an especially good court mover-- was moving poorly, and simply did not look right. Hampton took the set easily, at 6-1, and 1-1 in the second set, Nara retired. She had become ill last night and tried to play through the illness, but she felt too sick to continue. This was a real letdown, not only to Nara, but to those of us who were watching.

Xu and Zhou win doubles title in Hammond

Xu Yi-Fan and Zhou Yi-Miao won the doubles championship today at the Tangipahoa Tourism/Loeb Law Firm $25K Tennis Classic in Hammond, Louisiana. Xu and Zhou defeated Christina Fusano and Courtney Nagle 6-2, 6-2 in the final.

Unseeded Sevastova goes to Monterrey semifinals

Anastasija Sevastova, who is unseeded, defeated Alize Cornet (also unseeded) in the quarterfinals of the Monterrey Open tonight. Sevastova's 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory gives her an opportunity to compete against 3rd seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the semifinals. Pavlyuchenkova defeated Klara Zakopalova 6-2, 6-2.

Daniela Hantuchova, a wild card who is seeded 2nd, defeated Vania King 2-6, 6-2, 6-1. Hantuchova will face countrywoman Dominika Cibulkova in the semifinals. 4th seed and wild card Cibulkova defeated 5th seed Agnes Szavay 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Fernandez and Zvereva to be inducted into Hall of Fame

Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva, who comprised one of the tour's greatest doubles teams, will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in July.

Fernandez and Zvereva won 38 titles together, including 14 majors. Fernandez won a total of 68 doubles titles, including 17 majors, three of which she won with Robin White, Martina Navratilova and Jana Novotna. Zvereva won 84 doubles titles, including 18 majors, four of which she won with Larisa Savchenko (2), Pam Shriver and Martina Hingis. Zvereva also won the Australian Open mixed doubles championship twice.


Wild cards into the main draw of Indian Wells have gone to the following players: Justine Henin, Alicia Molik, Eleni Daniilidou, Tamira Paszek, Alja Tomljanovic, Christina McHale, Alexa Glatch, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

Martina Hingis is getting married to Andreas Bieri, an attorney from Zurich. Hingis used to be engaged to ATP player Radek Stepanek, who is also getting married--to tour player Nicole Vaidisova.

The Orange Bowl may leave Key Biscayne and return to Miami Beach.

Tennis Australia is involved in some controversy at the moment.

Justine Henin, Lindsay Davenport, Martina Navratilova, and Steffi Graf will all be involved in the Indian Wells "Hit for Haiti" exhibition. (via On the Baseline)

Zhang goes to semifinals in Hammond 25k tournament

A calm and serious Zhang Shuai packs her racquet after defeating Heather Watson in straight sets

I returned to Hammond today, to the Tangipahoa Tourism/Loeb Law Firm $25K Tennis Classic, to watch some of the quarterfinal matches. One I was quite interested in was the match between 3rd seed Zhang Shuai and Heather Watson. Zhang, of course, has some fame for having defeated then-number 1 Dinara Safina in the third round of the 2009 China Open. Watson was the winner of the 2009 U.S. Open junior girls championship.

Watson went up a break right away, and proceeded to change the direction and the pace of the ball so successfully, she soon had a 5-1 lead. But then Zhang picked up her game and began passing Watson all over the place; she eventually broke Watson at love to bring the score to 5-all.

Toward the end of the first set, the wind picked up again, which didn't appear to bother either player. Zhang quickly went up 3-0. When Zhang served at 3-1, 30-15, Watson could see the match slipping away from her, and--though nothing extraordinary had occurred at that moment--she smacked her racquet a couple of times on the court. She then saved a game point with her own passing shot, and earned an ad point by drawing Zhang to the net and passing her again. Watson broke Zhang, and there was every reason to believe we were about to experience a momentum shift, but Zhang broke her right back. Down 2-5 and ever the Brit, Watson muttered "Just give up, Heather, really...."

Zhang finished the match with a 7-5, 6-2 score, and earned a spot in the semifinals, in which she will play Xu Yi-Fan, who won her quarterfinal when her opponent, 8th seed Stephanie Foretz, retired at 7-6, 1-3. I wasn't near the court when the retirement took place, so I don't know what the injury or illness was.

Another match of which I saw only a small portion was the quarterfinal between 6th seed Kurumi Nara and Zhou Yi-Miao, which Nara won, 6-1, 6-1. Nara will play Jamie Hampton in the semifinals.

All the Brits went out in doubles semifinal action today. Melanie South and Georgie Stoop lost to Xu Yi-Fan and Zhou Yi-Miao, and Naomi Broady and Heather Watson lost to Christina Fusano and Courtney Nagle.

Jamie Hampton advances to Hammond 25k semifinals

Naomi Broady brought more drama to the court today in her quarterfinal match against Jamie Hampton in Hammond, Louisiana. There were not many people watching the match, but the crowd included Hampton's coach and a woman I presume was her mother. They cheered for Hampton after almost every shot she made, which irritated Broady to the point that she asked the umpire if it was "necessary" that Hampton's supporters "say something after every shot." The umpire quickly pointed out that Hampton's small entourage had not said anything inappropriate ("Nice shot, Jamie!" was the extent of it), and that there was nothing wrong with their cheering for her.

This interruption occurred in the middle of the last game of the first set, which Hampton won, 6-1. Hampton served very well, hit some good passing shots, and--most important--was aggressive from the moment she stepped onto the court. Every chance she had, she went forward, handling Broady's estimable backhand, and either smashing the ball or passing Broady.

Broady went up a quick break in the second, and I settled in for what I thought could be a three-set match. But Hampton never let up on the pressure, hitting a succession of drive volleys on the run, and generally breaking down Broady's game. She had plenty of help from her opponent. After Broady missed a ball that was nicely placed by Hampton, Hampton's supporters again cheered for her. Broady, obviously upset, told the umpire "It's unnecessary and unsportsman."

Hampton won the match 6-1, 6-4, and will play Kurumi Nara in the semifinals.

Quarterfinals set in Monterrey

Here is the quarterfinal draw for the Monterrey Open:

Anastasija Sevastova vs. Alize Cornet

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Klara Zakopalova

Agnes Szavay vs. Dominka Cibulkova

Vania King vs. Daniela Hantuchova

Sevastova, Cornet, Zakopalova, and King are all unseeded.

Friday cat blogging--tennis gear edition

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Watson keeps going in Hammond

Qualifier Heather Watson, who was on the court for a very long time yesterday in her first round match against former world number 7 Nicole Vaidisova (her 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 score included one 11-9 tiebreak), returned today and took her second round match 6-4, 6-4. Watson played 5th seed Monique Adamczak at the 24k challenger in Hammond, Louisiana. I had forgotten that Adamczak plays with a one-handed backhand, and it was nice to see two such backhands in two consecutive matches.

Adamczak used her backhand well, too, occasionally confounding Watson by setting up drive volleys with it, or by hitting outright winners. Watson, however, remained patient, and took advantage when the unforced errors started coming off of her opponent's racquet.

I also saw a bit of the match between 2nd seed Darya Kustova and Zhou Yi-Miao, which Zhou won, 7-6, 5-7, 6-0. Zhou's next opponent will be 6th seed Karumi Nara. Watson will play Zhang Shuai.

The tournament's top seed, Anastasiya Yakimova, was upset in the second round by the unseeded Xu Yi-Fan.

Naomi Broady and Watson are playing doubles together and have reached the semifinals.

Broady advances to Hammond 25k quarterfinals

I spent part of the day at the Tangipahoa Tourism/Loeb Law Firm $25K Tennis Classic in Hammond, Louisiana today. We have had tropical storm-strength winds around here lately, as well as rain, so conditions have been tough for the players. Today was crisp and cold and very sunny, with intermittent--but not high--wind blowing on the courts.

I watched a really high quality 2nd round match between qualifier Naomi Broady and wild card Kimberly Couts. This match had a bit of everything, including some drama. At one point in the second set, Broady was so upset by the chair umpire's line calls (the chair umpire was in charge of calling the baseline and the service line) that she questioned whether her opponent was being given preferential treatment because she was American. The tournament supervisor came to the court and had a chat with both the chair umpire and Broady, and that appeared to settle things. In the second half of the match, however, it was Couts who argued continually with the chair umpire.

What everyone around me was talking about, though, was Broady's backhand, and with good reason. It's a one-hander, but it isn't "artistic," a la Henin or Mauresmo or Schiavone. Broady puts a very big burst of energy into the stroke, which she snaps, and it then cracks across the court with power and precision. If you saw the ball without seeing the stroke, you would assume it was delivered by a powerful two-handed backhand.

Broady won the first set, 6-3, and Couts--who played a very good match--won the second, 2-6. Broady went up 4-0 in the third, but Couts came back to make it 4-all. Broady broke again, though, then won the set (and the match) 6-4. I liked the authority she displayed when she served for the match. There was no messing around; indeed, there were two aces. Broady has a strong serve, and her preparation is reminiscent of Sharapova's.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Venus Williams wins BNP Paribas Showdown for Billie Jean King Cup

This is a rather late posting, but I have had no Internet connection, and I thought better now than not at all: On Monday night in Madison Square Garden, Venus Williams defeated Kim Clijsters 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 to win the second annual Billie Jean King Cup.

In one-set, no-ad scoring, Williams defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semifinal, and Clijsters defeated Ana Ivanovic. Williams was awarded $400,000 for winning the exhibition tournament.

Vaidisova loses in 1st round of Louisiana challenger

Qualifier Heather Watson defeated Nicole Vaidisova 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 today in the first round of the 25k ITF tournament in Hammond, La. High winds and rain caused the tournament to get off to a slow start, but the first round has been completed.

I'll be attending the event later in the week and will report more.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Earth to JJ: Come back

When Jelena Jankovic accepted a wild card entry into the Monterrey Open, it appeared she might have an opportunity to get a confidence boost right before competing in the BNP Paribas Open. But tonight the top seed went out in the first round to Anastasija Sevastova, who defeated her 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.

Not to take anything away from Sevastova, whose game has apparently improved quite a bit, but this type of loss is just more of the same for the player so many of us thought was so riveting not that long ago. Jankovic used to be able to get just about anything back, and to turn defense into brilliant offense. Her serve needed work, and the irony here is that she actually improved it somewhat, only to see the rest of her game decrease in quality.

Whatever is wrong, here's hoping Jankovic finds a way to fix it, and to regain her confidence. She had a tough 2009, during which she experienced her mother's serious illness and her grandmother's death. Let's hope that the rest of 2010 goes better.